American Horror Story: Cult: “Neighbors From Hell” Season 7 Episode 3 Review

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Cult improves itself from last week by getting smart about its subtext, and delivering genuine scares.

We already know that the clown cult’s plan is to turn Ally against her instincts and into the thing she despises the most. I was disappointed last week when this master plot was telegraphed so clearly. Yet, I’m impressed with this week’s return-to-form. “Neighbors from Hell” is a much more cohesive episode that takes Ally’s transformation to a subversive new place. Namely, one in which she repeatedly plays the “I’m not a racist” card.

We all know people who, especially within the last year, made a big show of what a supportive and open-minded they are without actually positing any sort of change. After shooting Pedro last week, Ally becomes the absolute worst manifestation of this. Despite the fact that the police believe her actions to have been self-defense, she’s forced to continually state that she isn’t a racist murderer. At one point, she’s even surrounded by protesters and starts to shout, “I am one of you!” In this moment, as we see an affluent white woman try to convince a crowd made up of mostly minorities that she’s on their side, Ryan Murphy’s meditation on post-election fear becomes a lot more ingenious.

Sarah Paulson’s performance this season has been slightly grating, only because there’s only so many times we can watch her scream and wail about clowns that no one else can see before it becomes insufferable. Yet, her character’s bothersome qualities are starting to make more sense. When she tells her therapist, “everyone thinks I’m a racist. Do you understand the specific pain of someone like me being accused of that,” and then starts to go into a personal anecdote about where it all began, we roll our eyes right along with him. Cult has made Ally’s phobias take control of her life, but she’s in a fortunate enough of a position that she can take the time to deal with them. The minority protestors who are worried about losing another one of their loved ones to a shooting don’t have this luxury.

Then, there’s the hilariously ironic moment when Ally is confronted at her door by Harrison and Meadow. They berate her for bigotry and cultural appropriation, while wearing sombreros. Billy Eichner and Leslie Grossman are a blast to watch in this scene, especially since we’re witnessing two sides of the same terrible coin go at it. Cult deserves some praise for not solely going after this election’s easiest targets. The supposed “good guys” of the past year deserve an examination as well.

Another reason “Neighbors from Hell” works so well is the fact that it delivers some genuinely frightening moments. The episode’s opening sees another patient of Dr. Vincent’s visiting him to let him know she’s conquered her phobia of confined in tight spaces. When her and her husband return home, they’re horrifyingly murdered by the clowns by being sealed shut in a pair of coffins. Later, a guinea pig that Oz gets as a pet is disturbingly killed in a microwave, and Kai pops up for some fully effective jump scares.

Speaking of Kai, the one thing that’s still confusing to me is the extent of his influence. In the beginning of the episode he tells Ally that he will make the protestors go away. We assume he means by killing them, but it ends up being by simply standing in the crowd and saying, “enough.” The moment is more than a little surreal. Were all the protesters his plants? What sort of control does he have over them?

I was equally perplexed by his pink-locking trust sessions with Meadow and Harrison. In Harrison’s, he admits that he regrets his sham wedding, but then Kai is easily able to get him to say that he also wants her dead. Where exactly did that come from? Wouldn’t a divorce be easier? And why have a scene where he tells Meadow that she needs to stop blaming herself for her problems and start blaming the world, if he’s just going to try to kill her?

Okay, to be fair, we don’t know if Kai actually kills Meadow. “Neighbors from Hell” ends after Harrison wakes up covered in blood, screaming that Meadow is gone. Oz runs into the house, of course, and when Ally and Ivy follow him they see the smiley face mark of the clown killers, but no body. Perhaps, this will all become clear in the coming weeks, but it feels like there’s a supernatural element within the cult, and I’m not sure that I like it. I thought the whole point of this season was the real life is scary enough as it is.

There are more than a few unanswered questions by the time the episode ends, but I’m excited to see how they play out over the course of the season. If the show keeps balancing shrewd commentary and legitimate scares like it did this week, then I’m along for the ride. Even if Sarah Paulson keeps shouting at everyone. Grade: B+

 

Some Other Notes:

  • It’s safe to assume that Meadow and Harrison are in the clown cult, but I’m also fairly certain that Detective Samuels and Dr. Vincent are in it as well. There’s no way the clowns would’ve known about that woman’s phobias without his help, and it’s established Detective Samuels is “friends” with Harrison. (Side note: wouldn’t hate it if they hooked up).
  • Also, Ivy HAS to be in on the cult, otherwise her character makes no sense. She’s shockingly calm after finding out that Ally murdered Pedro, and even tells her that it wasn’t her fault because of how dark it was outside. Later, when they discover a video on Oz’s computer of Ally hooking up with Winter, she’s very upset about the cheating, but not at all concerned that someone put a video camera in their bathroom?? Also, Winter is easily one of the worst babysitters ever, and she’s totally cool with it. I hate to say it, but with this show, this could either be part of the season’s endgame, or just a really poorly written character. Hoping it’s the former.
  • A mysterious truck starts driving down Ally and Ivy’s street at night and spraying some sort of chemical all over everyone’s lawn. Don’t really know how this fits in, but guessing it will only a to Ally’s eventual psychotic break.
  • For the amount of times that Ally shouted that she wasn’t crazy in this episode, I just wanted someone to say, “sure, Jan.”
  • I don’t know why Ally isn’t more concerned about how her actions are going to effect her and Ivy’s business. At the very least, they need to start saving for Oz’s extensive therapy bills.

 

By Mike Papirmeister

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